By: Joanna Wolper The New York Times

Maureen Dowd raced to a computer to check the Web site announcing the Pulitzer Prizes to make sure her award for distinguished commentary wasn't a joke. She had heard rumors all week that she was going to win but didn't believe it.
"I had been nominated so many times that my bosses were beginning to think I was the Susan Lucci of journalism," she admits sheepishly.
Even though the judges called her winning columns in the Times "witty and insightful," Dowd recalls how hard it was to figure out how to cover the President's affair with Monica Lewinsky and still remain classy and dignified.
"The material was so graphic. There was so much tacky, cheesy stuff," Dowd sighs. "I was dealing with the Tom Wolfe syndrome. How can you write satire in a world where the material coming out of the White House was so much better than anything on Saturday Night Live?"
She used a combination of light and thoughtful satire to describe the state of affairs in Washington. "Things were funny, but they were also very serious," Dowd explains. "I kept thinking, let's not do this to the Constitution. I pretty much dealt with Starr's obsessive tactics, Clinton's lame behavior and Monica's wackiness. If there was a general theme to my columns it was that Clinton's behavior was grounds for divorce, not impeachment."
Dowd describes the Washington atmosphere where she wrote her columns as depressing and partisan. "Nobody in the rest of the country seemed to be paying too much attention to what was going on. But the president was being impeached. It felt like nothing in Washington was getting done."
Dowd is especially proud of her award considering the endless debate about whether newspapers spent too much time covering the sexual antics of Bill and Monica.
"It made me feel that journalism does play a role in democracy," she adds with a mixture of pride and humility. "It sends a message to presidents and politicians that they'd better not lie. That if they cover up something up, journalists will keep writing about it until they tell the truth. They should consider telling more not less, and say it sooner than later."
The 47-year-old columnist began her journalism career as a clerk for the Washington Star after graduating from Catholic University in 1973. She was soon promoted and went on to become a sports columnist, metropolitan writer and feature writer for the paper. When the Star closed in 1981, she went to Time magazine.
She joined the Times as a metropolitan reporter in 1983 and served as a correspondent in its Washington Bureau for 10 years where she gained a following for her clever and acerbic portraits of the country's power elite. She also wrote a column "On Washington" for The New York Times Magazine. She was appointed a columnist for the op-ed page in 1996 and is distributed by the New York Times News Service.
Finalists were Nat Hentoff of The Village Voice for his columns championing free expression and Donald Kaul of The Des Moines Register for his columns on politics and other issues.

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